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Good Nutrition for the Elderly

Digestion, Men's Health, Age related illnesses, Women's Health | December 12, 2016 | Author: Naturopath

age related

Good Nutrition for the Elderly

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), Australians enjoy one of the highest life expectancies in the world, and the number of people aged 65 and over has more than tripled in the last fifty years, reaching 3.4 million in 2014.

While many older Australians - aged 65 and over - enjoy a good quality of life, the process of ageing is often accompanied by social, physiological and psychological changes that affect nutritional status. Malnutrition and involuntary weight loss are common among the elderly, leading to muscle wasting, decreased immunity, and poor wound healing, and as a result a higher risk of infection, depression and death.

Factors influencing nutritional intake of older adults

  • Slower metabolism resulting in lower energy requirements
  • Less efficient absorption and utilisation of many nutrients
  • Chronic conditions, for example dementia - forgetting to eat
  • Medication that affect nutrient requirements
  • Loss of appetite
  • Changes in taste and smell
  • Oral health issues such as dentures and dry mouth
  • Lack of mobility
  • Low income
  • Social changes such as living and eating alone
  • Depression, resulting in loss of motivation to eat

Nutrients of particular importance to older adults

Protein. Adults lose muscle mass with age; however, although older adults may need more protein, the recommended amount of proteins of 0.8 grams of daily protein for every kilogram of body weight is still the same for all adults, young and old.

Food sources: animal proteins include meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, and dairy products. Plant sources include soy, quinoa, dried beans, peas and lentils, nuts and seeds.

Omega-3 fatty acids. These fats play a role in preventing inflammation. Low omega-3 intake is associated with cognitive decline, and higher intakes have been shown to decrease the risk of heart disease.

Food sources: Oily fish such as mackerel, herring, salmon, and sardines, green leafy vegetables, flax and chia seeds, and walnuts.

Dietary fibre. Numerous studies found that fibre lowers cholesterol, lowers blood sugar, softens stool, and is associated with lower risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers.

Food sources: legumes (dry beans, peas, and lentils), oats, bran, nuts, whole grains, fruits and vegetables.

Folate. This B vitamin is important for cognitive function and heart health.

Food sources: green leafy vegetables, legumes, citrus fruits and juices.

Vitamin B12. This vitamin is important for normal functioning of the brain and nervous system. Inadequate intakes may lead to increased risk of heart disease.

Food sources: Vitamin B12 is present in animal products, such as meat, poultry, fish (including shellfish), and to a lesser extent dairy products and eggs

Vitamin B6. This nutrient is involved in protein metabolism. Deficiency of vitamin B6 has been associated with impaired immune function, heart disease, cognitive decline, and depression.

Food sources: fish, poultry, nuts, legumes, potatoes, and bananas. 

Vitamin D. Vitamin D is synthesised in the skin upon exposure to sunlight. Older adults are at particularly high risk of vitamin D deficiency because they have less exposure to sunlight and their skin is less efficient at producing vitamin D from sunlight. Vitamin D is important for bone function and is essential for absorption of calcium, immunity and regulation of blood pressure.

Food sources: It can be difficult to obtain enough vitamin D in the diet because it is found naturally in only a few foods, such as fatty fish (mackerel, salmon, sardines), fish liver oils, eggs from hens that have been fed vitamin D, and fortified milk.

Vitamin E. Vitamin E is an antioxidant that is important for immune function.

Food sources: Plant seeds, especially sunflower seeds, almonds, and hazelnuts, olive oil, canola oil, tomato, avocado, spinach, asparagus, Swiss chard, and broccoli. 

Vitamin K. This vitamin is involved in blood clotting and is essential for bone health.

Food sources: Green leafy vegetables and plant oils (soybean, canola and olive).

Calcium. This mineral plays an important role in bone health. Women after menopause are particularly susceptible to osteoporosis and reduced bone density.

Food sources: dairy products, almonds, broccoli, kale, canned salmon with bones, sardines and soy products, such as tofu.

Magnesium. Magnesium deficiency has been associated with increased risk of heart disease, osteoporosis, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.

Food sources: Green leafy vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds.

Potassium. Potassium is important for optimising cellular function. Insufficient intakes contribute to hypertension, heart disease, kidney stones, and osteoporosis.

Food sources: Potassium is found in a wide variety of vegetables and fruits.

Healthy diet and lifestyle tips for older adults

Eat a varied diet. It is important to eat a varied diet to ensure an adequate supply of all the essential vitamins and minerals, and enough food to cover your energy requirements.

Get plenty of fibre. Eat more vegetables, fruit, legumes, and whole grains, such as wholegrain breads, wholegrain breakfast cereals, brown rice, and wholemeal pasta.


Include oily fish in your diet at least twice a week. Oily fish, such as salmon, mackerel, fresh tuna, trout, sardines, kipper and herring are rich in omega-3 fatty acids.

Limit refined foods and foods high in sugars, saturated fats, and sodium.

Make foods as appealing and palatable as possible. Add herbs and spices to meals and vary colours and textures as much as possible.

Cut back on salt. Too much salt can cause fluid retention and raise blood pressure.

Stay hydrated. Ageing produces a decrease in our thirst perception, and together with the decline in kidney function that comes with age, use of medication, cognitive changes, limited mobility and increased use of diuretics and laxatives, older adults are at risk for dehydration. The National Health and Medical Research Centre of the Australian Government recommends that adult men at any age should drink 2.6 L/day (about 10 cups) and women 2.1 L/day (about 8 cups).

Look after your teeth. Dental problems are common in later life and can affect choice and enjoyment of foods. Avoid sugar-containing foods and drinks, brush and floss regularly, and schedule regular check-ups with your dentist.

Quit smoking. Smoking increases the risk of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, osteoarthritis, cataract and even dementia. It also causes premature skin ageing and increases risk of eye damage, poor gum health and loss of muscle in later life.

Get enough sleep. Quality sleep plays an important role in healing and repair of your heart and blood vessels. Aim for 7 to 8 hours a night.

Be social. People need people! Social interaction helps to cope with depression, anxiety, and stress, and has even been shown to affect our immune system. Get together with family, friends, and others.

Keep your brain in shape. Staying mentally stimulated may improve your memory and prevent boredom. Simple things like games, puzzles, reading or even choosing a different route to the shops will keep your mind active and engaged.

Physical activity. Being physically activity benefits people of all ages including older people. Exercise provides many health benefits such as maintaining a healthy weight, increased muscle size, reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and some cancers, and improved mood.  Australia’s best online discount chemist


Australian government Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2016, AIHW, Ageing, retrieved November 30, 2016, <>

Australian government National health and Medical Research Centre 2014, Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand - Water, NHMRC, retrieved November 30, 2016,

British Nutrition Foundation. 2016, Later life, BNF, retrieved November 30, 2016,

Linus Pauling Institute Oregon State University 2014, Micronutrient Information Centre, retrieved November 30, 2016, <>

Nieuwenhuizen, W. F., Weenen, H., Rigby, P., & Hetherington, M. M. (2009). Older adults and patients in need of nutritional support: Review of current treatment options and factors influencing nutritional intake. Clinical Nutrition.

Rogers, A. B., & Oria, M. (Eds.). (2016). Meeting the Dietary Needs of Older Adults. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press.

World Health Organization 2016, Nutrition for older persons, WHO, retrieved November 30, 2016,

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